For all too many low-income countries, government tax revenues are far from enough to meet the needs of their people. Some have made good progress, and this helped them weather the crisis better than many advanced economies—but there is an underlying, quiet crisis of inadequately resourced governments.
I am delighted to be back in China this week for a high-level seminar in Nanjing on the international monetary system. Every time I come to this part of the world, I am impressed by the dynamism of the economies and the optimism of the people. The region’s economic performance over the past few decades has been nothing short of remarkable. To sustain this progress, Asia needs to grapple with numerous challenges today and these relate directly to our discussions in Nanjing. The current international monetary system has certainly delivered a lot. But it also has flaws that need to be fixed, especially if the next phase of globalization is to succeed in bringing a strong and broad-based increase in living standards. I see four pressing issues.
Governments in Africa have a prime objective—to reduce poverty. To improve living standards and create jobs, they need to provide their citizens with better health care, better education, more infrastructure. They need to build hospitals, schools, and to pay doctors, nurses, teachers. All this costs money, and how to pay for this—in a way that is both fair and efficient—is a major challenge. With limits to how much a government can receive as grants or borrow, raising tax revenues will be a crucial element for governments to deliver more of these essential services and, in turn, reduce poverty. Policymakers will have an opportunity to exchange views on the challenges of Revenue Mobilization in Sub-Saharan Africa at a conference in Nairobi this week. To help frame that conversation, here are some ideas about priority areas for action.
Latin America has enjoyed tremendous economic dynamism and a rising quality of life over the past decade. But the region’s transformation is not yet complete. Leaders across the region should capitalize on today’s favorable conditions, transforming their countries to the next level, and ensuring that the benefits of growth are more widely shared. The question is: how best to do that? As I travel through the region next week—visiting Panama, Uruguay, and Brazil—I’m looking forward to hearing the views of government officials, parliamentarians, and university students on the key challenges facing their countries today.
The IMF has made a concerted effort to engage more actively with civil society organizations in recent years. And, an emphasis on change at the 2010 IMF-World Bank Annual Meetings provided the perfect opportunity to break new ground in our relationship with civil society. More civil society representatives came to the meetings than ever before, and those that came participated in a wider range of events. Many of those events took on a different flavor: one more conducive to a meaningful exchange of views. Civil society is thirsty for information about what we do, why we do it, and how. But this is also a two-way street. There is a lot at the IMF we can learn from civil society and we have to start by listening.
With only five years to go until the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals, the global financial crisis struck a blow to the poverty reduction agenda. All is not lost, however. Reducing poverty on a massive scale is do-able—the number of people living in extreme poverty fell by a staggering 400 million from 1990 to 2005. The question is, how do we regain the momentum? It won’t be easy and, as a global problem, it will require a shared effort between the developing countries themselves, the advanced economies, and the international organizations.
Regional technical assistance centers have gradually evolved to play a major role in IMF technical assistance. These centers, which are largely donor financed, have become important vehicles for helping countries carry out economic reforms. Their objective is to assist countries in designing and implementing their poverty reduction and broader developmental strategies and help countries integrate into the world economy.